At some age, you realize that all the “stuff” you paid good money for is just “stuff. It’s then you know it’s not about the accumulation of things but the accumulation of life.

Life comes through a series of experiences.

In 1997 MasterCard International introduced a new series of commercials. The first was of a father sitting at a baseball game with his son. He pays for a hot dog for each. Then, the announcer makes the observation “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there is MasterCard.”

The ad exploited a simple truth. Experiences in life trump the stuff you buy. (Never mind that the subliminal message was “buy stuff on your MasterCard.”

Think about your life. You won’t remember much the purse you wanted, the laptop that sits in a dying landfill, or the “have to have” sofa you sold for $10 at the garage sale.

You remember the memories experiences inserted into your life.

I’ve got mine.

When our girls were younger, we spent Christmas Eve in downtown Houston going to The Nutcracker and then eating at Spaghetti Warehouse. I don’t remember what we ordered, but I remember how important the time was.

Before my daughter moved from Winston-Salem, NC I went up before Christmas to help her. (She and her husband were relocating back to Dallas. Within about 4 months she would deliver one of the other joys of our life.) While there, we drove to Asheville to see the Biltmore Estate, resplendent with hundreds of Christmas trees. Then, we stood in a long line in the cold to attend the Moravian Love Feast.

Of all the things I have bought, sold, and trashed, these remain. As I aged I realized:

Spend money on experiences, not stuff.

What experiences do for us?

Experiences take the mind and heart and turn them inside out. We replace the routine with the novel. Even when finished, spiritual residue lingers.


We tend to get “stuck.” We see the world from the same vantage point.

When I was a boy, we would make a car trip to California to see my grandparents. We took Route 66. As romantic as that sounds, there are hundreds of miles of nothing. , and the scenery never changes.

That’s everyday life. We get out of bed, get dressed, go to work, come home, and it is rinse and repeat. It’s miles of sand.

When you experience something new, you start to pay attention. It is different. It is the color palette against the monochrome in the Wizard of Oz. You see things you never saw. It looks and feels different. The place doesn’t make the difference. It is you in that place that makes the difference.

Experiences provide another valuable avenue. Learning.

My wife gets weary of my tedium on vacations. I am a chronic “sign reader.” If there is a sign, I stop and read it. There is something I need to know about this item or exhibit.

Yet, that’s what experience does. It awakens a thirst to know something either new or forgotten.

On my visit to the Moravian Lovefeast, I learned about candle-making (done in front of you),. I ate Moravian Sugarcake (made from potatoes) and drank coffee boiled in a large vat and stirred for an hour by hand.

More importantly, I learned to appreciate Christmas with family more.

It took the experience to deepen things I knew but needed the reminder.

The average American has more stuff than they need. Packed closets, cluttered garages, and rented storage buildings testify to our values. (I can confess for all… We have it, too.)

We need more experiences. So my family gives me experiences for gifts. I remember them more than the shirt, tie, or plaque.

So the next time you whip out the MasterCard ask a different question. What experience am I buying? If it is something you will see in a garage sale or force your kids to sell in an estate sale, put the card back in your wallet.

And while you live, pay attention. Every day is an experience not to savor as well.

What’s your experience?